Russian-Canadian activist hospitalized in suspected poisoning, Pussy Riot says

Pyotr Verzilov, a Russian-Canadian anti-Kremlin activist, is seriously ill and in hospital, according to members of the Pussy Riot protest band in suggesting he may have been poisoned.

Prime Minister says Canadian officials taking incident 'seriously'

Pyotr Verzilov, shown during a court hearing in Moscow on July 16, was rushed to hospital after losing his eyesight and ability to walk, according to Pussy Riot member Veronika Nikulshina. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

Pyotr Verzilov, a Russian-Canadian anti-Kremlin activist, is seriously ill and in hospital, members of the Pussy Riot protest band with whom he collaborated said late on Wednesday, suggesting he may have been poisoned.

Verzilov, 30, helped stage a protest during the soccer World Cup final in Moscow in July along with three women affiliated with the anti-Kremlin punk band and is the publisher of Mediazona, a Russian online news outlet that focuses on human rights violations inside Russia's penal system.

The band announced Verzilov​'s illness on Twitter.

Sergei Smirnov, editor in chief of Mediazona, struck a more cautious note, however, confirming on social media that Verzilov was in hospital, but saying nobody knew his diagnosis, making it difficult to understand what was going on.

Prime Minister Trudeau says consular officials have reached out to the hospital where Verzilov is being treated.

"It is of concern, obviously, particularly given the actions of recent months by the Russians in the U.K.," he said, presumably referring to Moscow's alleged involvement in the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal.  

"We are certainly taking this very seriously," he said in Saskatoon, where his party is holding its caucus. "But it is too early to draw any conclusions about what has happened or how it has happened."

Listen to the prime minister's full answer about Pyotr Verzilov

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters in Saskatoon on Thursday 0:50

Online news portal Meduza cited Veronika Nikulshina, who it said was Verzilov's girlfriend, describing how he had been rushed to hospital on Tuesday night after he started to lose his eyesight and ability to talk and walk.

Verzilov and the others served a 15-day sentence for running onto the field in front of President Vladimir Putin and other high-ranking officials wearing police uniforms during the final of the World Cup on July 15, a stunt they said was meant to promote free speech.

Verzilov lived in Toronto as a teenager and holds both Canadian and Russian citizenship.

Pussy Riot came to prominence in 2012 when its members were jailed for staging a protest against Putin in a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Moscow. The group has since become a symbol of anti-Kremlin protest action. 

With files from Chris Brown

With files from CBC News